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Willie Mays
#24 | Center Fielder | San Francisco Giants/New York Giants


Willie Howard Mays: "The Say Hey Kid"

     Willie Mays, the Giants' "Say Hey Kid," played the game with enthusiasm and exuberance.  Considered by many the greatest player of all time, Mays was the prototype of the complete player; he played with intelligence - he hit for average and power, fielding, throwing and base running.  His unique 1957 performance of 20 or more doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases established his claim as one of the game's greatest all-around offensive threats.  He was also remarkably durable, playing in at least 150 games for 13 consecutive seasons.

 

     He played a spectacular centerfield, and possessed a great arm.  Mays' preeminence as a centerfielder is supported statistically by his career total of 7,095 putouts, the most in major league history.  He used his patented basket catch on routine fly balls, and he regularly dumbfounded onlookers by making seemingly impossible plays.  After a particularly astonishing display in which Mays raced to his left, speared a fly ball, spun 360 degrees counterclockwise, and threw the ball on a 325-foot line to nail a tagging Dodger baserunner at the plate, Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen commented, "I won't believe that play until I see him do it again."

 

     He was National League Rookie of the Year in 1951 and a two-time MVP; he accumulated 12 Gold Gloves, played in four World Series, and participated in a record-tying 24 All-Star Games.  Mays had a habit of addressing his fellow players with a high-spirited "say hey" salutation, prompting New York sportswriter Barney Kremenko to call him the Say Hey Kid.  An exuberant figure during his earlier days in New York, he became a folk hero by playing stickball with children in Harlem streets bordering the Polo Grounds.

 

     His staggering career statistics include 3,283 hits, 660 home runs and a .302 average.  He won four consecutive stolen-base titles from 1956 through 1959.  He stole 338 bases in his career and might have had more had he and the Giants not elected to minimize his chance of injury on the basepaths.

 

     He began with a discouraging 0-for-12 start with the struggling Giants in 1951.  Manager Leo Durocher kept his spirits up by declaring that despite his poor start, Mays was and would remain the Giants' full-time centerfielder that season.  His first hit was the first home run of his ML career, off Warren Spahn.  It helped Mays to end his slump, and he became one of the sparks that ignited the Giants in their classic, come-from-behind pennant chase.  

     New Yorkers debated for nearly a decade about who among Mays, the Yankee's Mickey Mantle, and Brooklyn's Duke Snider was the greatest New York centerfielder of the 1950s.  

 

     Mays had a habit of addressing his fellow players with a high-spirited "say hey" salutation, prompting New York sportswriter Barney Kremenko to call him the Say Hey Kid. An exuberant figure during his earlier days in New York, he became a folk hero by playing stickball with children in Harlem streets bordering the Polo Grounds.  He was embraced lovingly by New Yorkers, who were heartbroken when the Giants moved to San Francisco following the 1957 season, but his reception in the Bay Area was lukewarm by comparison, and he was never shown the affection accorded to Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, who debuted there.

     Some writers ascribed Mays's limited popularity to his New York affiliation.  Other writers found Mays to be aloof from the fans as well as the media, and there were rumors that he demanded special treatment from his managers.  Nevertheless, he continued to shine.  He cracked 49 home runs in 1962 as the Giants tied the Dodgers for first place on the last day of the season and captured the pennant in a three-game playoff before losing the World Series to the Yankees in a seventh-game 1-0 squeaker.

 

"Baseball is a game, yes.  It is also a business.  But what is most truly is is disguised combat.

For all its gentility, its almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps."

Willie Mays

 

"I can't believe that Babe Ruth was a better player than Willie Mays. 

Ruth is to baseball what Arnold Palmer is to golf.  He got the game moving.  

But I can't believe he could run as well as Mays, and 

I can't believe he was any better an outfielder." 

Sandy Koufax

 


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